Coming hot off the heels of playing to packed arenas opening for Journey, Steve Lukather continues to wrestle with the legal and perceptual problems that make up Toto. Once a brotherhood of high school friends who quickly became much in-demand studio musicians, the spin cycle of life has managed to unravel most of what held the hit-making machine together.
If there’s one remaining thread that refuses to wither away, it’s Luke. He’s the only founding member that never took a hiatus from the band. And as much as he may have wanted to wander off, the songs kept calling him back. With a classic back catalog and the resurgence in popularity of “Africa” thanks to an unexpected Weezer cover, Toto remains a brand that can still do good business playing live, even if the deck has been shuffled a bit.
While lawsuits from various family members of previous lineups have now made it unlikely that a new “Toto” record will ever see the light of day, “Bridges” comes pretty darn close. As the title suggests, it serves as the middle ground between classic Toto and Lukather’s more eclectic solo records. Part of what makes it sound like Toto is the presence of contributors who played a key role in past Toto records. First off, there’s Luke’s unique singing voice, which sounds remarkably good for a guy pushing 65. It still sounds like the man who sang, “I’ll Be Over You” and “I Won’t Hold You Back” back in the day. Add in a little 80s production to the mix and you’ve got classic sounding vocals that rise to another level with the background contributions of Joseph Williams. While Williams wasn’t a founding member, he has served as the front man on a number of classic Toto records that have earned him familiarity and legitimacy. He’s a welcome presence on the record, both from a writer, producer and background vocalist standpoint.
Another element that is present on “Bridges” that makes it sound even more like a Toto record is the very welcome return of Simon Phillips on drums. Sonically speaking, Simon’s booming drums are unrivaled in terms of tone and presence, and hearing him play on most of the track on “Bridges” is like seeing an old friend again. With Luke, Phillips and Williams working together, the pieces are in place for a return to that classic sound. As it turns out, founding Toto piano man David Paich also contributes to the songwriting, which kind of solidifies it all. When you put these guys together, you get that sound, and the goal of this record certainly wasn’t to deviate from what they’ve historically produced. It can’t be called Toto, but it can certainly sound like it. And it does.
Part of what’s present in “Bridges” is songs with immediate accessibility. From the first listen, you hear the hooks and can pick up the chorus lines right away. Songs like “Someone” and “When I See You Again” are polished pop/rock tracks that could have been instant radio hits in another era. Whereas his last studio record was an attempt to stretch out and really “play,” on this new release, Lukather is exercising a lot of restraint and playing to favor the song. What you don’t get in pyrotechnics, you get in pure musicality. There’s a ton of feel in the playing.
There’s also a lot of emotion in the slower tracks that lament lost love. In the spirit of the classic Toto ballads, both “All Forevers Must End” and “I’ll Never Know” bring a beautiful sense of melancholy that is moody but never boring. In fact, these two tracks might be the most tasteful and feel-oriented of the set. If I was making a Toto best of, they’d both be contenders to be included on the collection.
By now, one might think that this record is all polish and shine, but that would be a mistake. In the spirit of Clint Eastwood saying “Get Off My Lawn,” Luke delivers perhaps his most biting lyrical delivery to date on “You’re Not My Kind of People.” Luke has always been known for his sense of humor, and he goes no holds barred at his unspoken enemies when he sings, “I’d piss in my pants if you were on fire, rather than hear one more lie.” This jagged little number would be at home on “Kingdom of Desire” and it delivers a bit of contrast to some of the other tracks.
So does “Take My Love,” a blues number that smolders like it belongs in a smoky club setting. This track feels more like Luke and less like Toto than most of the record, but it adds another shade to the record with some stellar female backing vocals and a soaring but melodic guitar solo that flirts with the ghost of Gary Moore.
“Burning Bridges” is a bit of a love child between ZZ Top and Steely Dan with a rollicking verse and jazzy like chorus that sound like a track that would have been right at home on “Mindfields.” The opening track, which was mostly written by Luke’s son, Trevor, is a declaration that despite getting older, Luke is still “Far From Over.” It’s a rocking opener that rightfully states that there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank and new roads to be explored.
I wish I could comment more on the other songs on this record, but there aren’t any. In fact, if there’s one real shortcoming of this release, it’s that it’s too short. Clocking in at around 36 minutes, I find myself frustrated that Luke and company didn’t include about 4 more tracks.
Grey hair be damned, Luke’s still solid at 65. He’s making music with his friends and having a few laughs along the way. The production sounds great, the guitar tone is spot on and the songs are catchy and quickly absorbed. Add in some quirky album art and you’ve got yourself a gift for fans missing Toto. While it’s not officially a new Toto record, this is as close as you’re going to get, and I recommend you don’t pass it up.
Released By: The Players Club / Mascot Label Group
Released On: June 16th, 2023
Genre: Classic Rock / AOR
1. Far From Over
2. Not My Kind Of People
4. All Forevers Must End
5. When I See You Again
6. Take My Love
7. Burning Bridges
8. I’ll Never Know
There’s nothing overly modern or cutting edge about this record, but that’s partly what makes it so rewarding. Most of the cast of classic Toto contributes and the mission is to do what they know they’re good at providing - catchy songs, pristine production and stellar musicianship that provides comfort for both its familiarity and melodic sensibility